Yes, the moment you’ve all been waiting for, the House of Lords is back! And whilst I get to spend less time with my wife, legislation awaits. Will the death of Lords Reform change anything on the red benches? Just what are they going to discuss without it?
There are three Bills carried forward from before the summer recess;
As a gentle loosener after a summer of grouse shooting, light naps and memoir writing, Monday sees Day 6 of the Committee Stage of the Financial Services Bill, perhaps now to be known as the Lord Sassoon farewell tour (he’s standing down as a Minister once the Bill is passed). It is, for the most part, extremely technical (that’s in the sense that, frankly, I have no clue what they’re on about). For the most part, it will be about Lord Flight, the somewhat controversial former Tory MP for Arundel and South Downs and before that an investment advisor and director of banks, attempting to amend the regulatory framework from that intended. From the Liberal Democrat benches, Susan Kramer will be trying to nudge the Minister gently towards greater transparency, whilst Andrew Phillips will be pitching for the individual investor, based on his experiences as Jimmy Young’s “Legal Eagle”.
On Tuesday, the Defamation Bill gets its Second Reading. The aim of the Bill is to reform the law of defamation to ensure that a fair balance is struck between the right to freedom of expression and the protection of reputation. The Bill makes a number of substantive changes to the law of defamation, but is not designed to codify the law into a single statute. Key areas include a requirement for claimants to show that they have suffered serious harm before suing for defamation, the removal of the current presumption in favour of a jury trial, the introduction of a defence of “responsible publication on matters of public interest”, increased protection to operators of websites that host user-generated content, providing they comply with the procedure to enable the complainant to resolve disputes directly with the author of the material concerned, and new statutory defences of truth and honest opinion to replace the common law defences of justification and fair comment.
Finally, Wednesday is Local Government Finance day. Can’t wait, can you? I know I can’t… And yet, the Committee Stage ran to six days, and the Lords is full of ex- and in some cases, current local councillors. The Report Stage promises to be lively, especially given some of the savage cuts to be made in terms of grant settlement over the coming years.
It’s a good week for Liberal Democrat interventions too, with short debates on provision of mental health services on Monday, initiated by John Alderdice, and a longer debate on the case for considering an alternative constitutional settlement in the event of the break-up of the UK on Thursday, called for by Robert Maclennan. Perhaps linked to the latter, the Economic Affairs Select Committee is taking evidence on the economic implications for the United Kingdom of Scottish independence on Tuesday. In addition, Dick Taverne has an oral question on Wednesday about evidence-based treatment in the National Health Service – a gentle dig at Jeremy Hunt’s enthusiasm for homeopathy, perhaps?
Finally, in Grand Committee on Tuesday, Margaret Sharp has a debate on the contribution of further education colleges to their local economies and communities, whilst Qurban Hussain kicks off a debate about the human rights situation in Bangladesh.
* Mark Valladares is glad that he’s now the Friday Co-Editor, as it makes writing this column so much easier…